Matt and Mike hadn't had a clue that Stan and Linda had been experiencing problems as their wedding day drew near. But two weeks before the two of them were to have their union blessed at the altar of St. Casimir's Church, Stan had strolled back to Matt's and Mike's bedroom one evening while they were studying, and knocked softly on the door.
"Hey, short-timer, common in," Matt had said, putting down his law text.
"Hey, dude," Mike had said. " 'Sup?"
"I've been wanting to tell you what's going on with the wedding behind the scenes," Stan had said.
First he had shared the invitation list with them, and as they had looked it over and talked, Matt couldn't help but reflect on how Stan's life and his relationships with human beings had turned around since Matt and Mike had worked at Hospice with him. Stan had gone from having no friends back then to having scores of people now who cared about him and wanted to celebrate his wedding with him. That pleased Matt. A lot.
Then Stan had gotten to the real point of his visit. He told Matt and Mike that Linda had been having a running battle with her mother over a period of some weeks about just how much Polish tradition would be included in the nuptials and in the collateral celebrations. Mrs. Kosco wanted everything done in accordance with "the old ways," and Linda was of the opinion that "less was more." The problem with "the old ways" was that they entailed events which normally transpired over three days in the old country, events which would have had to be crammed into one day in the contemporary USA.
Linda had been prepared to compromise to some degree, but her concessions had never seemed to be enough to please her mother. Mrs. Kosco was relentless. Stan and Linda had talked the matter over at some length, with Stan saying, like the usual guy, he would support whatever Linda wanted to do. Subsequently, however, after Mrs. Kosco had reduced Linda to tears one day on the telephone, Stan had paid a visit to the Kosco house the following afternoon all on his own. He had told his future mother-in-law quietly, politely, but firmly, that the warfare over Polish wedding tradition either would cease forthwith, or he and Linda would cancel the church wedding and elope. When she had heard that, the tough old lady had shrieked and carried on at first, but had eventually caved, at least for the moment, and some semblance of peace had been restored.
"Man!" Mike had said sympathetically. "I wish I had some really good advice to share with you, Stan, but this is foreign territory for me. I don't know what to tell ya." He grinned. "My mother and my mother-in-law are the same person, and she's always been great. More than great, actually! More like perfect."
"I think you handled the situation just right," Matt had told their friend. "Your first responsibility is to Linda, and there's no way the bride should have to feel powerless and unhappy when it comes to her own wedding. If there's a breach now with your future in-laws, so be it, but it's not your doing."
"Well, Mr. Kosco seems fine with whatever his wife and Linda want to do," Stan had said, "so I don't think there will be any problems with him. He wouldn't care if we were married by an itinerant street preacher at the corner of State and Madison as long as Linda was happy."
Mike and Matt had laughed.
"Just out of curiosity, what do the Koscos think about your living with two gay guys and assorted adopted family?" Matt had asked.
"Y'know, neither one of them has ever said a thing about it. I don't know whether they've commented about it to Linda or not. She's never passed it on if they have."
"I just wondered," Matt had said.
"I actually like Linda's mom and dad," Stan had said. "Her father is a sweet guy. He thinks Linda hung the moon. Her mom is a tough old gal and has kind of a sharp tongue. I think she's basically a good person, but Linda and she have never been close. I'll tell you one thing, though. Mrs. Kosco is definitely in awe that your mom and dad would come to Chicago all the way from Washington for this wedding, and along with Mary, stand in for my parents, your dad being a Supreme Court justice and all. It's kind of shut her mouth a little, I think."
"Just let us know if there's anything we can do to help," Mike had said. "With anything. We want your wedding day to be a great day and a happy day for you and Linda. We'll do anything you ask us to, bud."
"I know that," Stan had said quietly. "You really are my brothers, y'know. Looking back, if I weren't dead by now, I'd have been a real mess if it hadn't been for you guys. I just want you to know how much I appreciate everything you've done for me. For both Linda and me."
That had made Matt and Mike feel pretty good.
"It's been a two way street, Stanley," Matt had said. "You've given as much back as you've received. We're the ones who are thankful. We love ya, man."
He and Mike had stood up, drawn Stan into a three-way hug, and kissed their friend.
Keenly feeling the bond which had grown so strong over the many years the three of them had known one another, they had just continued to hold each other for a long minute, saying nothing. Then, feeling renewed and hopeful just from talking things over with his best friends, Stan had let Matt and Mike get back to their studies.
* * *
Matt and Mike settled their parents into their bedroom at the condo after their arrival in Chicago, and then Matt and Mike and Chris drove up to Evanston to pick up all the men's attire for the next day's wedding. To simplify things, they had used the same rental establishment that they had for Matt's and Mike's wedding, so the shop had had everybody's measurements on hand except for Chris'. The black morning coats, gray vests, gray and black striped pants, black shoes, gray and black four-in-hand ties, gray gloves, and white dress shirts for Stan, Justice Broman, Matt and Mike, Jeff and the three little boys were all ready for pickup when they arrived at the shop. And once Chris was in the front door, the store personnel fitted him up right away with a matching ensemble.
Wasting no time after Chris was taken care of, the three guys drove back to the condo with the wedding clothes and accessories, and saw to it that everything was hung up properly for the next morning. Then the men in the wedding party changed out of casual clothes into business suits or sport coats and the women into dresses, and they all drove to St. Casimir's for a 6:30 p.m. rehearsal. A genial and relaxed Father Stralka walked everyone through the service with humor and grace in his heavily accented English, and the priest's good spirits began to reduce everybody's jitters.
"Piece o' cake, dude," Mike whispered to Stan in a quiet moment as they stood together at the altar rail, and gave him a thumbs-up. Stan still looked a little nervous, as did Linda, but calmer than when the rehearsal had started. Jeff relieved Stan's tension a bit more when he asked him at one point, sotto voce, if this ceremony meant Jeff was out of the running to be his life partner. Stan laughed out loud.
The groom's party consisted of Mike, Matt, Jeff and Chris and the three little Broman boys. Linda's two older sisters, along with Martha and Andie, were attending the bride, along with the older sister's three little girls, one being Matthew's, Michael's and Kyle's age, and one older and one younger. All of those constituting the wedding party were strikingly good looking, Mrs. Broman thought to herself.
Justice and Mrs. Broman were serving as the parents of the groom at the wedding along with Mary Bradford, and on Saturday morning would be seated in the front pew of St. Casimir's on the groom's side of the church. In fact, because Linda's huge Polish family would all be in attendance, by agreement the entire Broman extended family would sit on the groom's side just to balance the congregation out a bit. A large contingent of Stan's co-workers and volunteers from Hospice was expected to attend, however, including Sisters Angeline and Catherine, along with many of Stan's fellow students from college. And of course Tony and Marie Angelo would be there, accompanied by Chris' Aunt Carole. The condo doorman, Dominic, and his wife, would also be attending.
After the rehearsal at St. Casimir's, the entire wedding party returned to the condo for the rehearsal dinner along with Father Stralka. The meal was catered by one of Chicagoland's best known Polish eateries. Stan and Linda asked the priest to bless the meal.
"In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancti, Amen." Father Stralka said in Latin, crossing himself, obviously feeling more at home in Latin than English. "Dominus vobiscum."
"Et cum spiritu tuo." The Bromans were quick on their feet.
"Oremus." At this point, the priest switched from Latin into his heavily accented English.
"Heavenly Father, creator of all things, you make your loving presence known among mankind throughout the whole earth. We thank you for the richness of the wonderful traditions with which we have been blessed and which we remember as Stan's and Linda's wedding nears. Of your goodness, shower these two young people with your kindness as they begin their lives together. Give them hearts full of grace that they may love and serve you and each other all their days. May this meal be one of many that they share joyfully with one another and with those whom they love on this earth. In your mercy, bless the food we are about to receive"--the priest traced the sign of the cross over the table--"and all of us who are privileged to partake of it, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Everyone made the sign of the cross, and remained standing until Stan had seated Linda and then sat down himself. Everyone else remained standing while Justice Broman offered a toast, drunk in vodka by everyone except the three little boys and three little girls, to the prospective bride and groom. Then the men seated the women.
Mouths were watering from the enticing smells emanating from the kitchen, the door of which burst open as a succession of white coated waiters appeared with silver trays of food carried at shoulder height.
The menu was Polish from beginning to end. The first course was a delicious spring salad of cottage cheese, coarsely grated carrots, grated radishes, green onion, dill, and sour cream, on a bed of radicchio. That was followed by a rich dumpling soup. The main course was filled beef rolls accompanied by mushrooms in sour cream. Dessert was a royal mazurek, which to Matt and Mike tasted like cherry pie. The caterer had served a succession of different, semi-sweet Georgian red wines, one with each course, a perfect accompaniment to what had been a satisfying, gourmet meal. Along with the wonderful food, everyone seemed to enjoy the good company, and no one would have suspected that there had ever been any tension between the betrothed couple and the bride's mother over any of the wedding particulars.
Justice and Mrs. Broman proved yet again what delightful dinner companions they were, seemingly able to converse on a variety of topics with those whose backgrounds and life experiences were very different from theirs. Thankful to them for their kindness and support, Stan asked for vodka again to be served, and offered a toast in honor of the parents of the bride and of the groom. In his own mind he especially wanted to honor Justice and Mrs. Broman and Mary Bradford. Mrs. Broman, seated next to Stan at the table, leaned over and gave him a kiss when he sat down, taking his hand and holding it.
By the time the meal was over, the contingent of little boys and girls were tired despite the extra naps they had taken that day. As the rest of the wedding party was settling in the living room for a last cup of coffee or an after dinner drink, Mike took the three little guys back to their room, gave them their bath, and after hearing their prayers, put them to bed. He turned off the overhead light and sat down in a chair in the semi darkness as the boys began to drift off into sleep, smiling to himself as he savored his love for them, still feeling their moist boy kisses on his cheek.
By the time Mike returned, most of the wedding party had finished their conversations and whatever they were drinking, and were moving toward the foyer, pausing first to admire again the wedding gifts which had been pouring into the condo all week and which were massed on tables at the far end of that space. Then they retrieved their coats and hats.
Chicago was in the midst of a cold snap, with a cloudless sky revealing a sliver of moon and what few stars could be seen over the bright lights of the city. As they received thanks for their hospitality, Matt and Mike bid the bundled-up guests a cordial goodbye under the watchful eyes of several security guards and police officers.
Linda was going home with her parents for the night; and she went back to her apartment to get her bag. The older of her two sisters had picked up her wedding dress for her, and it was waiting for her at her parents' house.
Matt watched Linda and her dad together in the foyer after she had returned with her bag and they waited for the elevator. There was obviously a close bond between her and her father, a rough-hewn plumbing contractor by trade. They held one another and looked lovingly at each other. Linda was beaming and happy as she hugged him then, whispering something in his ear that made him laugh. After she gave Stan a long hug and a goodnight kiss, Linda and her family boarded the elevator when it arrived, and were gone.
The Bromans all went into the den for a few minutes with Stan before Jeff and Andie, followed shortly by Martha and Mary Bradford, went to bed. Chris and Josh took Breakers downstairs for his walk, and then came upstairs and went to their bedrooms.
Stan looked over at the Bromans with a serious look on his face as they all relaxed for a few minutes. Matt and Mike were sitting together on the couch between Justice and Mrs. Broman, holding hands.
"Tomorrow is going to be hectic," he said to the four of them, "so I need to tell you all something while I have a chance. I hope you know that wherever Linda and I find ourselves down the road and whatever our circumstances are, you'll always be family to us," he said quietly. "You're part of us, and you'll always be in our hearts. You're wonderful people. You've taught us such good lessons about how to be a loving couple, and to recognize that love flourishes wherever we find it in this world if we just open our eyes and our minds instead of closing them. I'll always be grateful for that. And Mr. and Mrs. Broman, you don't know what it means to me to be able to claim you for my parents, even if it is a short-term deal."
"What do you mean, 'short-term,' Mister?" Mr. Broman demanded. "Where did you get that idea? You're son number 4 and Linda's daughter number 2, and that's not going to change just because your wedding day comes and goes. We're blessed to have you both in our family, and don't you forget it."
The older man's words deeply affected Stan because he didn't have a blood relative left anywhere in the world, not that he knew of, anyway. He tried not to cry, but was only partly successful. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes.
Eventually, after talking for a few more minutes about what had been a very pleasant evening for everyone, they all stood up to go to bed. Mr. Broman gathered all five of them into a circle, and they put their arms around one another.
"I want to offer up something for Stan and Linda, if you'll allow me," he said, lapsing into silence for a moment.
"Lord God," the jurist prayed, "you are the Creator of mankind and the Father of families. We ask your special blessing upon Linda and Stan as they become one, and begin a new and wonderful part of their journey with you. Nourish them and their relationship, and if it be your will, give them children to love and care for, a reflection of their love for one another. May their union be a lifelong inspiration to us all, Lord, a reminder of your generous grace and compassion for us. Bless us and keep us always as we celebrate their day before your altar tomorrow. We ask these things through Jesus Christ our Lord."
"Thank you, Dad," Mike said.
Justice and Mrs. Broman kissed the three of them, and after they all said goodnight, they headed for bed.
* * *
The Weasel had watched as much of the evening's festivities as he could see through his binoculars from his vantage point across the street. He could taste the bile in his mouth because Matt Broman was entertaining people and having a good time in the midst of family and friends while he sat in lonely darkness and isolation in front of his window. His hatred was ratcheted up another notch for the whole damn family by what he saw, and he knew he was going to have to strike decisively and soon or lose his mind completely. By this time his obsession was such that he had spent money he could scarcely spare on a second set of binoculars, this pair with night vision.
As he sat at his window holding his binoculars in one hand, his elbow propped on the window sill, he idly picked at the flaking skin under his beard with the other hand. His face itched like hell under all that hair, and his condition had resisted any of the creams and ointments he had tried thus far. He knew that his fear of being apprehended and his frustration over not having dealt decisively with Matt and his family by then were conspiring against him so far as his overall health was concerned. He rarely ate, subsisting largely on black coffee, and his brain was so fevered that he slept only fitfully at night, at intervals, and then only with the help of a few stiff drinks of whiskey.
His angst wasn't helped by the fact his funds had fallen below $100. He had planned another robbery for early the next week, this time at an area all night supermarket. He hoped his little foray wouldn't be complicated by having to kill anybody in addition to the people he'd already done in since his escape from custody. But if he had to, he had to. He simply was not going to permit anyone or anything to stand in his way. He was determined, but he no longer had any vestige of a moral compass.
People had always seemed to conspire against his legitimate aspirations when he'd been a boy, and achieving adulthood hadn't improved things for him in that regard. His parents had been cold and remote during his growing-up years, perhaps so disappointed that he hadn't been the handsome and popular jock they'd longed for in their only child that they only interacted with him when they absolutely had to. That interaction had usually entailed some sort of withering criticism for Neil's shortcomings, at least as his parents perceived them, and the boy's father had had no reluctance when it came to meting out physical abuse. The fact that the boy had possessed a brilliant mind and a record in public school and college to prove it hadn't impressed his parents at all. He'd had no friends, either, to mitigate the excruciating loneliness that had marked his world day in and day out, and after a certain point in his life, his need for friends had not survived his formative years of isolation.
His sexuality was ambiguous. By age twenty-eight, he had never had sex except with his own right hand, and because his adult sex drive was low, masturbation always seemed more trouble than it was worth. More and more frequently of late, though, he had fantasized about raping Matt Broman as he had himself been raped in prison, not as an act of sexual release or pleasure, but of power over him and as punishment. Matt was everything that he wasn't, and for that he needed to pay. He thought he just might do Mike, too, as a bonus, if the opportunity presented itself.
Standing up and stretching, he moved the straight wooden chair which constituted his only furniture away from the window, and turning on the overhead light, sat down again to study the sketch he had made of the supermarket he planned to rob. Cops and security people were stupid and predictable beyond belief. He had no doubt that he would be successful, and was confident the store would yield him $10 thousand cash or more.
After studying the supermarket layout at some length, and tired and a little dizzy from lack of food, he eventually shut off the overhead light and lay down fully clothed on top of his sleeping bag on the floor. As usual, sleep was slow in coming, and then only after he took a couple of pulls from his bottle of whiskey to slow down his racing mind. He didn't know that although alcohol was a sedative, it was also a stimulant.
As he drifted off, he fantasized that one of these days he was going to find a way to get up to the penthouse across the street and shoot anything that moved, saving Matt for last after he fucked the shit out of him. He knew the fag would love it. The fucking part, at least.
* * *
Standing in front of the mirror in his boxers, Mike was in the bathroom brushing his teeth after he and Matt had gone back to their bedroom. Matt, clad only in his jockeys, came up behind him, wrapped his arms around his partner and hugged him to his chest. Resting his chin on Mike's shoulder and his crotch against his butt, Matt lightly stroked Mike's chest and abs as he watched his brother in the mirror.
Finished brushing, Mike took a sip of water, rinsed his mouth with it, and breaking free to bend over, expectorated into the sink. Standing upright again, he held Matt's gaze in the mirror.
"May I help you with something?" Mike asked, grinning.
Matt kissed his partner's beautiful back. "The thought had occurred to me, yes."
"You have that look."
"The 'I haven't gotten off in the last hour, so we better do something about it' look. The drool at the corner of your mouth is a dead giveaway."
By way of response, Matt snaked his hand into Mike's boxers and palmed his dick. Flaccid at first, it immediately began to plump up.
"Everything seems to be in working order," Matt said.
"My cock knows that if it doesn't perform for you like a trained seal, there'll be no 'nummies' for a reward. My dick's no dummy."
"I've heard of 'smart bombs,' but never 'smart dicks.' If anybody were to have one, though, you'd be the guy," Matt said, laughing.
Mike put down his toothbrush, and turning around to face his partner, hugged Matt to him, running his hands up and down his back and then under the elastic band of his jockeys, reaching down to squeeze his butt.
"These melons are ripe and ready to serve," Mike said.
"You know your fruits, dude, in every sense of that word!" Matt responded. "You're a true connoisseur. I've always liked that about you."
"Just to be certain, I think your melons need a test nibble or two, though," Mike said. "That's the only way to tell fer sure."
"Well, let's get on with it, then, and get it on. God forbid they should get any riper."
"What about your shower?"
"Priorities," Matt said.
"Sorry, I refuse to tell you that you have your priorities 'straight.' That would be misleading."
"Just let me clean my teeth, and lead the way to the bed."
When Matt finished, they ran for the bed, shucking their underpants as they went, and soon were lying face to face on top of the bedspread, holding each other, and enjoying a long, slow, gentle, juicy kiss as their penises throbbed stiffly between them.
"You're beautiful, Matt. The total package. It sure as hell isn't the main reason I love you, but it doesn't hurt, either."
Matt kissed his partner softly on his nose, then looked into his eyes as he ran his hands up and down Mike's back.
"I'm so fucking lucky to have you I should be ashamed," he replied, moving his hands up to caress Mike's face. "You blow me away just like you did when we were kids, Mike. I don't mean just physically. Of course, if I look at your bod too long, you can make me cum without even touching me. There's so much love and kindness and caring in your eyes that I just about go into overload every time I look at you. You're everything I want, and you're much more than I deserve."
Mike looked at him tenderly. "See, there you go again, buddy, stealing my lines. That's all right, though. There's nothing we can say to each other in words that can capture how we really feel. I know that. But I can show you."
Lifting Matt up, Mike pulled down the bedspread from under them, letting it fall to the floor at the foot of the bed, and laid Matt down again. Mike French kissed his partner for a long time, gently exploring his mouth and letting his hands roam over his body.
Pulling back at last, Mike searched his lover's face. "I want to taste you," he said, reversing his body on the bed and gently cupping Matt's balls. Matt's cock was throbbing and plastered up against his abdomen right in front of his face as Mike pulled it down gently and sucked the big head of it into his mouth. His tongue circled the corona.
Matt groaned and reciprocated, tasting Mike's sweet precum almost immediately as he slowly sucked his brother's dick in right down to the healthy smelling pubic hair at its root.
As he felt his penis being totally engulfed, Mike emitted a hum that Matt felt through his dick into his innermost being, and Matt's throat muscles caressed his partner's cockhead as he began rhythmically to massage it, beginning a slow, persistent cadence. The sweetness now dribbling into the mouths of the two lovers encouraged them in their efforts. The upside down dance of love had begun.
Mike cupped Matt's ass, and running his free hand up and down his lover's trench, stuck his middle finger into Matt's pucker. Matt did the same to Mike. Minutes passed, and whenever one of them sensed that his partner was close to a climax, he would slow, holding the object of his attentions immobile in his mouth until the critical moment passed, and then would resume his ministrations.
After 20 minutes, with both of them were teetering on the edge, they went for it. Their mouths were filled almost immediately with their partner's spurting essence as they tasted and swallowed and rolled the cum around on their tongues. They lay there for a time, satiated, silent, and then Mike reversed his position and faced Matt again on the bed. They kissed slowly and deliberately, mingling their splooge as Matt reached up and caressed Mike's short blond hair back from his forehead. Mike was soon breathing deeply, unmoving, as Matt pulled the top sheet over their perspiring bodies.
"I love you, Mike," Matt whispered. There was no answer He put his head down gently on his partner's chest and listened to his heartbeat, as strong and steady and dependable as the man himself. Eventually moving his head to his pillow, Matt soon fell asleep, clasping his partner to him. Neither of them heard Breakers nudge the door to their bedroom open or felt him jump up at the foot of their bed, circle once, and plop himself down at their feet.
They didn't wake up until Mike's alarm clock went off at 7:30 the next morning. Matt reached across his Mike's body and shut it off, but Mike didn't move a muscle. For several minutes, Matt studied his brother's face as Mike slumbered on, just lying there loving the man so much he could hardly stand it.
Finally, glancing again at the clock, Matt slid out of bed and hit the bathroom, relieving himself, brushing his teeth, and then showering. He had just closed the glass door of the shower when it popped open again, Mike's face appearing, giving him a sleepy smile. Mike opened the door wider and got in the shower, too, kissing Matt on the lips as he did so.
They clung together, luxuriating in the spray for a few minutes.
"Thank you for last night," Matt said, putting his hand on Mike's neck and returning his partner's kiss. "You're a wonderful lover, Mike. Seriously. When we make love, it just reaffirms bigtime that God made sex for gay people, too."
"I love ya, sweetboy. It just keeps getting better."
"That's fer damn sure," Matt said.
"I needed you so-o-o much last night," Mike said. "I was horny as hell."
"That reminds me of a story..."
"I don't think we have time for that," Mike said, looking for a way out.
Matt held him by the arms. "Yes, we do, my Mike. It's a short story."
"Is this really how you want to start Linda's and Stan's wedding day, dufus?"
"Oh, yeah. How better?"
"I can think of ways..."
"Uh uh," Matt said. "We don't have that much time. Just relax, now, and this won't hurt a bit."
"Two elderly ladies are sitting on the front porch, doing
nothing," Matt began.
"One lady turns and asks, 'Do you still get horny?'
"The other replies, 'Oh, sure I do.'
"The first old lady asks, 'What do you do about it?'
"The second old lady replies, 'I suck on a lifesaver.'
"After a few moments, the first old lady asks, 'Who drives you to
Mike grabbed Matt, laughing as he reached down and pinched his ass.
"You're such a shit," he said. "Here you are, maligning old people, and you're gonna be old yourself someday. You should be ashamed."
"You helped me lose all my shame long ago," Matt said. "That's why sex with you is so good--no inhibitions whatsoever. Anyway; wash my back for me, will ya? I gotta get dressed and go see that Stan gets his wedding suit put on right."
Mike smiled and kissed Matt again, and turning him around, began to lather up his back and butt, then switching to a shower brush to scrub that flawless skin.
"Did you ever work in a car wash? You do good work," Matt said. Then he reciprocated and washed Mike's back and ass. "You're butt is lookin' especially cute this morning," he said. "There's just something about it..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Mike said. "Get movin'. Stan is prolly so nervous he'll have his shoes on the wrong feet."
They finished washing and stepped out of the shower, grinning at each other as they toweled one another dry.
"One more kiss, dude!" Matt said, and made it happen. Then he left Mike behind to brush his teeth as he went into the bedroom and pulled on fresh jockeys and a white T-shirt. Grabbing his suit, vest, shirt and shoes out of the closet, he dressed, and was ready and admiring himself in the mirror within five minutes.
"Lookin' good, bud!" Mike said, emerging from the bathroom. "Lookin' so good. I can't believe I'm the one who gets to do you right here in this bed whenever I want to."
"Just a word of advice: don't ponder that too long, or you won't be able to zip your pants," Matt said, laughing over his shoulder as he walked out of their bedroom and down the hall. Reaching the boys' room, he made a U-turn and went back. "Mike, get the boys up and dressed while I take care of Stan, OK?"
"But of course," Mike replied in a French accent, feeling good.
Matt walked back down the hall, across the foyer, and into the other wing of the condo, stopping in front of Stan's door and knocking. He heard a groan from inside. Opening the door and peering inside, he saw Stan was still in bed.
"Oh, man!" Stan said, trying to read the face of his clock. "Is it late?"
"Not yet, but snap to, buddy," Matt said. "Grab a quick shower, and we'll get you dressed. And use deodorant, 'cause you're gonna sweat like a pig today."
"Pigs don't sweat. I thought a country boy like you would know that. But thanks for the tip, asshole," Stan said, shaking his head and smiling as he climbed out of bed with a big old hardon tenting his boxers.
"You said a bad word on your wedding day!" Matt said disapprovingly. "That was the wrong fucking thing to do!" he added, laughing. "So hurry up!"
"Shut the fuck up!" Stan said, going into the bathroom and using the toilet.
Meanwhile Matt pulled Stan's suit and accessories out of the closet and laid everything out on the bed. He heard the shower door open, the water go on and the shower door close, and Stan began singing "I'm getting married in the morning" from My Fair Lady, a little off key. He knew all the words. Too bad he was a day late, a fact which Matt pointed out to him when he came out of the shower.
"I know," Stan admitted. "My voice is magnificent, though, don't you think? I know I'm a day late, but I didn't want to sing the song in front of your mom and dad last night."
"Well, it was sort of emotional evening, what with the dinner and all, and I didn't want them to cry just before bed from the beauty of my singing voice."
"Dude, you got a line of shit a mile long."
"I know," Stan said modestly, casting down his eyes. "I only share it with a select few such as yourself, though."
"Thanks. I think."
Stan put on a fresh pair of boxers and an undershirt, and Matt began handing him articles of apparel. Finishing up with the tie, which Matt adjusted until it looked just right, Matt stepped back and looked Stan over.
"Man, lookin' good!!" Matt said. "All the maidens in church are gonna cry when they realize you're off the market."
"Maidens, huh. They're hard to find. Did you hire some, or what?"
Matt laughed. "Yeah. They were specially flown in from overseas. We couldn't find enough of 'em in Chicago."
"I hope they're Polish, for Mrs. Kosco's sake."
"One and all! Now, commere and look at yourself in the mirror."
Stan walked over and took a look.
"Yep," he said. "That should do it. Thanks for the help, Matt."
Matt sat down on the bed and looked at him pensively. "Y'know, you and the Sisters are practically the first friends Mike and I made in Chicago, back at the Hospice. Well, of course, there's Tony, and we met Arnie in a bathhouse before we started working, but we don't see as much of him as we should." Matt cleared his throat. "Anyway, Stan, I hope you know how happy Mike and I are for you. You found yourself a wonderful woman, and I know you're gonna be good together! So, y'know, we love ya both..." he said, uncharacteristically tongue-tied. He stood up and hugged Stan, and kissed him on the forehead. "My bro!" he said.
Stan teared up, wiping his eyes. "Don't get me all fucked up, now," he said.
"OK," Matt said. "I'm done. Let's stroll down the hall and gather all the beautiful people together. The limos should be here any time, and we should leave in a few minutes. We have time for a cup of coffee, though, if you want one."
A knock sounded on the door, and Stan opened it. It was Mary Bradford.
"Oh my gosh, Mary, you look beautiful," Stan said, drawing in his breath and pulling her into his room.
Mary's gray hair was perfectly coifed, and she was wearing a warm rose colored dress that reached to mid calf, completed with lace at her bosom and her cuffs. Her outfit was perfectly accented by a single strand of pearls around her neck. She was the picture of what a society dowager should look like.
"I don't know about 'beautiful,' but you two are about as handsome as they come," Mary said. "This is a wonderful day, Stan. Just relax and enjoy it."
"Isn't that what the anesthetist says just before the lights go out?" Stan laughed. "I'm kidding. It is a wonderful day. And I want to thank you, Mary, for standing in for my parents with the Bromans. This means so much to me."
"There's no role I'd rather have, sweetheart. Thank you for asking me," Mary said.
"Let's go get a cup of coffee and piece of toast or something before we leave," Matt suggested.
They walked down the hall into the foyer, where they spotted the three boys dressed to the nines in their swallow tail coats. The formal attire hadn't discouraged them from practicing in slow motion some of the moves they had been learning from Master Kim in martial arts class. Aside from the classes being a lot of fun for the kids, since they had been taking lessons Matt had noticed that the boys had seemed much more compliant when the adults in the condo asked them to do something. Along with martial arts technique, they were obviously learning good discipline.
"Hey, guys," Stan said. "Lookin' sharp! Did you get dressed all by yourselves?" he asked them, knowing they couldn't have.
"No," Kyle said. "Dad Mike helped us. Now we know how to do it, though." As he spoke, he simulated punching Matthew in the chest with the heel of his palm and then withdrew into his previous stance.
"Y'know, you guys are getting really good at Gung Fu!" Matt told them. They ate that up. "Did you have any breakfast yet?"
"No," Michael said. "Are you cooking, Dad?"
"Uncle Stan and Grandma Bradford and I are gonna have some toast," Matt said. "And some juice. Why don't you come to the kitchen with us and have some, too, 'cause we're gonna have to leave for church pretty soon."
"OK, Dad," Matthew said. "We're right behind you."
Matt grinned to himself. Lord, he thought, they're growing up so fast. And so smart. And so damn cute he could hardly stand it.
They found Grandma and Grandpa Broman and Mike already at the kitchen table.
Jane Broman was wearing a red semi formal designer dress, the color just a little muted from a bright red, that set off her black hair and her beautiful complexion perfectly. Pinned to her bosom was a diamond and emerald broach that she had created herself. She looked magnificent.
"Wow!" Stan said, stopping in his tracks when he saw her. "Wear a coat 'til we get to the church, Mom, or you're gonna stop traffic."
Justice Broman smiled and gave him a thumbs-up. "I agree with you, Stan. And look at you, Mary. You ladies both look stunning!"
Jane smiled at her husband as Mary said, "Thank you, Matthew. You're looking handsome yourself, sir."
"And look at these ring bearers," Justice Broman added. "You boys are looking pretty spiffy this morning."
"Thanks, Grandpa," Kyle responded. "You look good, too."
"Thank you, Kyle," Mr. Broman said, smiling.
Matt caught Mike's eye, and they chuckled to themselves about how well the kids were already socializing at their young age.
Matt filled the eight slots of their two toasters with bread, and began to pour orange juice for those who hadn't eaten yet, along with some coffee for the adults. Feeding the boys first, soon everyone had swallowed at least some breakfast and was ready to face the day and celebrate the occasion.
Twenty minutes later the whole family was down in front of the condo, and it was apparent that the weather was cooperating with the day's festivities, as least it as much as it could in mid-Winter Chicago. The sun shown brightly, the temperature hovering around 32°, and it was almost windless.
The family climbed into two black stretch limos. Stan, Matt, Mike, Josh and the three boys rode in one car, and Justice and Mrs. Broman, Mary Bradford, Chris, Jeff and Andie in the other. Everybody looked spectacular, causing Neil Anderson, who was watching out his front window, to curse out loud with jealousy until long after the cars had pulled out on to Sheridan Road and rolled out of sight.
The Weasel didn't know Chris or Josh by name, of course, but through his field glasses he had been able to tell that the bastards were armed with pistols under their coats. The pricks. Cops. He could smell 'em a mile away. Josh's state police cruiser remained parked in front of the condo as a silent reminder to Neil about what he was up against in trying to get at Matt.
When the family arrived at St. Casimir's Church, two stretch limos, both white, were already parked out in front. Linda and her family had obviously arrived, and the bride was sequestered in a room with her attendants so that the groom couldn't possibly see her until she was walked down the center aisle by her father.
The men in the wedding party pinned white carnations they found on a tray in the narthex on to their lapels, and then helped the boys do the same. Stan, Matt, Mike, and the three boys walked down a side aisle and went into a room at the front of the church reserved for the groom and his party. Mr. and Mrs. Broman and Mary Bradford were shown into a room off the narthex, near the front door, to wait until they were ushered into the church before the service began. They would be escorted into church just before the parents of the bride.
Jeff and Chris took up their posts at the back of the church, poised to begin seating guests as they arrived. Josh walked himself up the center aisle, genuflected, and sat on the groom's side in the second pew where he would be right behind the senior Bromans and Mary Bradford.
St. Casimir's looked magnificent. The reredos behind the altar was massed with Gardenias, with clusters of Million Star Baby's Breath woven into the arrangement. Decorated pots of gardenias were also lined up across the floor in front of the altar. The same treatment was continued in the well of each window in the nave, surrounding candles which had already been lighted. Obviously, the Koscos had spared no expense on Linda's and Stan's behalf in beautifying the church.
Guests began to arrive for the ceremony, and Jeff and Chris put on their gloves and began to seat people on the bride's and groom's sides of the church. Matt left Stan and Mike as they relaxed in the little room reserved for the groom, and helped seat people for a time as the crowd waiting in the vestibule peaked. When the arrivals slowed somewhat, he rejoined Mike and Stan.
Stan and Matt and Mike listened through the slightly open door of their room as a woman soloist, a coloratura soprano, sang Franz Schubert's Ave Maria. She was a professional singer friend of Linda, and did a superb job. When she finished, an altar server tapped on their door and said that Father Stralka was ready to begin. Matt and Mike gave their bro a hug and a kiss, the last he would receive as a single man. The sound of the pipe organ swelled as Jeff and Chris joined them after the two of them had unrolled the long, white runner down the center aisle.
The men and three little boys, led by Stan, proceeded out to the altar. When he reached his station, Stan turned and looked down the aisle toward the vestibule of the church, where Linda's matron of honor and other attendants, including Martha and Andie, were now in evidence. As the attendants advanced at a moderate pace down the aisle behind the three little girls scattering rose petals, Linda, on her father's arm, appeared. Stan teared up when he saw how beautiful his bride looked.
When Linda and her father reached the front of the church, the care of Linda was ceremonially passed to Stan, and the two of them stood before the altar with their attendants as the priest began the service. The betrothal segued into the vows and then into the mass as the wedding party knelt before the altar. At long last, after communion had been distributed to those who wished to receive it, Father Stralka gave the Church's blessing to the new couple. Stan and Linda kissed, and then they were introduced for the first time as Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Rosinski to the congregation. The church rang with applause, and the recessional began with Stan and Linda leading the way, with the three Broman boys (much to their little boy disgust) pairing off with Linda's three little nieces, and on down the line.
It had been one of those rare services which had come off flawlessly, and Stan sighed with relief as they moved down the long aisle toward the narthex. He was pleased to see that so many of his school mates and former fellow employees at Hospice were there as they had told him they would be, including Sisters Angeline and Catherine. Catherine gave him a big smile and a thumbs-up as they passed by. And he saw that Tony and Marie Angelo were there, and Arnie Watkins as well. Dominic the doorman was also there with his wife, and he beamed at the couple as they recessed.
The newlyweds went into a room off the vestibule to wait until Chris and Jeff had escorted the parents of the bride and of the groom from the church. The crowd gathered on the front steps after picking up packets of bird seed (instead of rice) with which to shower the bride and groom. After Stan and Linda and their official witnesses signed the parish records along with Father Stralka, and signed their wedding license as well so it could be filed with the county clerk, the newlyweds ran for their limo through a hail of bird seed and good wishes. The car pulled away from the church with a sign saying "Just Married" on the back window and a string of tin cans rattling along behind it, courtesy of Josh.
The Bromans were soon on their way back to the condo to join Stan and Linda so that everybody could change clothes and kick back until the reception later that evening. At least they all thought they were going to relax, but Matt had other ideas. Schedules had been so hectic all week in preparation for the wedding that several days of running had been missed. Once everybody was there except for Father David, who had an early afternoon meeting at St. Stephen's, Matt talked the runners into changing into their jogging attire, including the new bride and groom, and away they all went down the beach with Breakers. It was cold but clear, with a bright sun flashing off the waters of Lake Michigan.
Chris put on his running clothes for the first time since his casts had been removed, and did his stretches with everybody else down on the beach.
"Chris, I don't want you to try to run the whole five miles," Mike told him as the group prepared to get underway. "In fact, I don't want you to run at all."
"Why not? I'm in good shape."
"Listen up, macho man. I'm not worried about your lungs, I'm worried about your leg. There's no sense putting that much strain on your muscles and tendons down there your first time out. Especially when it's cold like this. I want you to jog, not run, for a block, then walk, and then continue alternating jogging and walking. You need to ease into this and not get yourself all crippled up. I'll stay with you."
"You da boss," Chris said, shrugging and smiling.
The rest of the group took off with Breakers in the lead as Mike and Chris set off behind them at a slower pace. After the first mile, Chris could already feel his leg tiring, and was glad he had listened to Mike. They walked for a while.
"The wedding sure was fine, wasn't it?" Chris commented between breaths. "Everything kind of came together, and the priest did a good job."
"It was very beautiful," Mike agreed. "Stan and Linda are great people, and so much in love. I know they're gonna be happy. And maybe we'll see some little Rosinskis coming along pretty soon for Matthew and Michael and Kyle to play with."
"Have they said anything about how soon they want to have children?" Chris asked.
"Not to me. And I'm not going to mention it."
"Well, I certainly am!" Chris said emphatically. "I'm gonna demand from Stan a complete schedule of when he and Linda are gonna be intimate, and when the first baby will be due. He owes us that for makin' us get dressed up on a Saturday morning."
"You wouldn't!" Mike looked at him as if he were crazy, and Chris laughed his ass off at Mike's expense.
"You shit!" Mike said. "You are feeling better now that you're off your crutches and outta your casts. I'm gonna tell Matt, and he'll have no mercy on you from now on, you asshole. Now you can be the 'butt' of his jokes for awhile, if you'll excuse the expression."
"Don't do that," Chris said. "Matt doesn't need any encouragement."
"Tell me about it. Once you're in his sights, you may as well sit back and enjoy the show, 'cause you don't stand a chance."
"Speaking of 'in his sights,' when are you guys picking up your weapons?"
"Probably Tuesday," Mike said. "I'm hoping Tony's gonna be free to take us to the firing range and give us some basic instructions. I'm curious about whether we'll be able to hit the broad side of a barn."
"Can I go with you? I haven't been to a range for awhile, and it would probably be a good idea for me to fire a few rounds."
"No problem. We'll probably meet Tony at the precinct and go together to get the guns. Matt and I will plan to take the 'L' to school, so why don't you drive to the precinct, and then after we're done at the range, the three of us can come home together."
"You got it, dude."
"How's the leg feeling by now?" Mike asked.
"Maybe a little tired, but not too bad."
"Let's turn around, then. The runners are probably headed back toward us by now. We'll catch a lot of shit if they run around us."
"That's true!" Chris agreed.
They wheeled around and started a slow jog back toward the condo, beating the runners back by just a few minutes. They went upstairs, and Mike went back to his and Matt's room, stripped and jumped in the shower. He was relaxing in the spray when the shower door flew open, and there was Matt, wearing a big grin and nothing else.
"Who told you that you could take a shower before me?" Matt demanded, stepping in and shutting the door.
"Don't start up with me, bro!" Mike said. "I'm giving you fair warning. Chris and I agreed down on the beach that you get away with entirely too much shit around here as it is, and we're gonna change that and give you the discipline you so desperately need."
"Ummmmm. Discipline! Will that include a good spanking?"
"Probably not. You'd enjoy that too much. Anyway, we're not telling you what we might do. It'll be more effective if it's a surprise."
"Shoot! You two pussies don't stand a chance." Matt reached out and cupped Mike's balls in one hand, squeezing them lightly, and put his other hand on his brother's shoulder. "See, I know just how to neutralize you, bro, and then Chris won't be any problem, 'cause he's not 100% yet."
"I'd suggest that you don't grab the wrong set of balls," Mike said.
"I won't. I'd recognize yours in a crowd."
Mike reached up and took Matt's face in his hands, and kissed him on the lips. Matt dropped his partner's balls and reciprocated.
"You looked really handsome today in your wedding suit," Mike said. "Almost as good as you do in your birthday suit."
"Right on both counts. You looked good, too. Everybody looked great. The boys were so cute. It made me think of our own wedding day, y'know." Matt kissed his partner again. "I'm so lucky to have you, Mike. No matter what life throws at us, I'm always gonna feel this way."
"Me, too, man," Mike said, clasping Matt to him in the warm spray. "We just need to get beyond this Neil Anderson thing, and I'm gonna feel a lot better."
"Yeah, I agree."
"Speaking of which, why don't we go pick up our new pistols next Tuesday afternoon," Mike suggested. "Chris wants to go with us, and then we can all go to the firing range if Tony has time."
"Yep, yep. Sounds good to me. Now, turn around and let me wash that beautiful back and ass of yours. Your ass is one for the picture books."
"You're gonna make me hard," Mike said, swiveling around and presenting his back.
"You ain't alone there, bud," Matt said, soaping up his hands, his dick already standing at attention. "A small price to pay," he added, sliding his penis up and down in Mike's ass crack. It was only with an effort that he kept his mind on his work.
They eventually finished washing and drying each other, and stepped into their bedroom.
"This bed looks awfully inviting right now," Mike said, still erect.
"Uh huh," Matt agreed. "But let's wait 'til tonight. We need to spend some time with Mom and Dad while we have a chance."
So instead of giving into temptation, they made their bed, got dressed, and walked down to the den. Justice Broman was sitting on the floor with his grandchildren playing a board game, and Jane Broman was on the couch with Jeff and Andie. She was showing them their wedding rings, which she had only recently finished designing and creating.
"Andie, try this on," Mrs. Broman said. "You'll see how the wedding ring interlocks with your engagement ring. That way they won't swivel around your finger unless you deliberately twist them."
Andie put the ring on, and the two rings interlocked perfectly. The new ring's platinum surface was studded with sizable, bezeled diamonds at the top, trailing off into smaller ones, also recessed, on the sides. Viewed together, the two rings were strikingly, exceptionally beautiful.
"They're fabulous, Mom!" Andie said. "How can we ever thank you enough?"
"Just by being as happy as I know you're going to be," Mrs. Broman said, smiling.
"Where's my ring, Mom?" Jeff asked.
"In your nose, dude," Matt quipped. "How could you miss it?"
"Shut up!" Jeff said.
"Here, sweetheart," Mrs. Broman said, ignoring Matt and pulling another ring out of its box. "I hope you like it. Try it on."
It, too, was exceptionally beautiful. It was tastefully set with diamond chips at the top and around the sides as well, and fit perfectly on the ring finger of Jeff's big hand.
"Mommy, you're the greatest!" Jeff said, putting his arm around his mother and kissing her cheek. "Thank you so much. You let me know how much I owe you," he added. "I'm not having you pay for my wedding rings."
"Well, I'll have to figure it out, and I'll let you know. But the work and the design are a gift of love to both of you from Dad and me. It's been a real privilege for me to work on them, Jeff."
"That's generous of you, Mom!" Andie said. "But promise me you'll let me know how much Jeff's ring is," Andie said. "I'm buying that."
"Hmmm. A 'freebie,'" Jeff said, holding his hand out and admiring the ring.
"Put them somewhere secure until the wedding," Mrs. Broman said. "I don't want to have to do these over. Do you guys have a safe in the condo?" she asked, looking at Matt and Mike.
"Yeah," Mike said, turning and looking toward the bar. "It's behind a panel in the wall behind that Renoir reproduction over there."
Andie and Jeff reluctantly removed the rings and gave them back to Mrs. Broman. She put them in their boxes, and Mike took them over toward the bar. Taking down the picture, he slid a panel aside and opened the hidden safe. He put the boxes into the interior, closed the door and hid it away again.
Mr. Broman gave a groan from the floor where he was sitting, partly because his legs were cramping, and partly because his namesake Matthew had just administered the coup de grâce to all the board game contestants.
"I'm vanquished. Somebody help me up," the justice demanded, holding up a hand.
Matt walked over, and grasping his father's hand, hauled him to his feet.
"Don't feel bad," Matt said. "We're all used to having these boys whip our butts at these games. They're tough."
"I need to take a walk on the beach," Justice Broman said. "Jane, do you want to come?"
"I think I'll pass today, dear," his wife said.
"I'll go with you, sir," Josh said, coming into the den fresh from his shower, his blond crewcut still damp.
Matt and Mike looked at each other. They were more than willing to go with their dad, but thought it might be a good thing for Josh to have a chance to talk with the older man alone.
"You just got back from running," Mr. Broman said. "Are you sure you want to go out again?"
"It's a beautiful afternoon," Josh responded. "I'll be glad to go with you." The real reason, of course, was that he didn't want the justice to be wandering around on the beach without security.
"Well, thanks," Mr. Broman said. "Give me a minute to use the facilities, and I'll be with you."
Mr. Broman headed for the bathroom, and Josh went to his bedroom for his shoulder holster and pistol. Coming back, he put on his State Police cap and jacket as Mr. Broman donned his coat and hat.
"Do you take your weapon everywhere?" Justice Broman asked, eyeing the gun in its sheath before Josh's jacket covered it.
"Yes, sir, usually," the young cop said.
"I guess it's just as well under the circumstances," the justice said.
They headed for the elevator and met a very happy looking Stan in the foyer, carrying an armload of clothes from his old bedroom to Linda's, and now his, apartment.
"Stan, wait 'til I get back, and I'll help you move your stuff," Josh told him.
"Thanks, Josh, but a couple more trips should do it. Where are you two off to?"
"I need a walk," Justice Broman said, "and Josh is going to keep me company."
"See ya later," Stan said, heading on down the foyer.
The elevator came, the doors opened, and the two men stepped inside.
"That's one fine young man," Justice Broman said to Josh about Stan as the elevator descended.
"I couldn't agree with you more, sir," Josh said.
"You all are," Justice Broman said thoughtfully. "All you young men and women are wonderful people, and I think the world of you. Matt and Mike have been extremely fortunate in their friends, in my opinion."
"I don't know about that," Josh said. "I'm not sure you know everything Matt and Mike and Mary have done for every one of us, Mr. Broman. I think we're the fortunate ones."
The older man smiled but didn't respond, and soon they were down on the beach. The sun had migrated more to the west by now, and there was an offshore breeze, so the temperature was very comfortable, given the season.
They walked north in silence for a few minutes, the justice looking around, studying the rocks along the shore and the great, empty expanse of Lake Michigan.
"How do you like your work as a State Trooper, Josh?" the justice asked after a time.
"I like it very much," Josh said. "It's what I always wanted to do. I'm missing Chris on The Job, though. It's not quite the same without him."
"I'm sure that's true. I had a chance to talk to Chris over the Christmas holidays, and I know getting hurt and possibly being declared unfit for duty was a real blow to him."
"Yes, sir, it was. I'm not sure that he couldn't just pass his back-to-work physical if he took it, though. He's come a long way since he was shot. But he's decided to make a commitment to security for Matt and Mike and the family, so he definitely won't be coming back to active duty."
"You know, maybe he could stay on in the State Police reserve. You have that in Illinois, don't you?"
"Yes, we do!" Josh said, excited. "I should have thought of that!"
"Why don't you mention it to him?" the jurist suggested. "That way he could stay qualified and keep his badge."
"I sure will. Thank you so much for the idea, Mr. Broman. I think Chris would like that."
"Good." They walked in silence for a few minutes, when Justice Broman spoke again. "Tell me, Josh, are you living at the condo to help with security?"
"Yes," Josh said. "That's part of the reason. But it's not the main reason Matt and Mike asked me to stay with them, at least not originally."
Justice Broman looked over at his companion inquiringly.
Josh cleared his throat.
"I've never told anybody this outside the immediate family in the condo," he said. "I moved in because I was pretty depressed about something I had finally admitted to myself."
Justice Broman said nothing as they continued walking.
"I'm gay," Josh said, looking down at the sand. "I was feeling pretty down about it, and Mike had a doctor friend of his check me out. He put me on an antidepressant. I'm seeing a counselor about...my condition, because I was close to doing something stupid to myself."
They continued walking in silence for a few steps, and then Mr. Broman stopped in his tracks and turned toward Josh. Josh stopped, too.
"When you said you were depressed, I thought it might be something like that," he said quietly, looking him in the eye. "How are you feeling about yourself at this point?"
"Not so great, at least not yet," Josh admitted unhappily, looking back his companion.
"Are you out to your family or to anybody else?"
Spontaneously, the older man took a step toward the young cop and drew him into an embrace. Tears began to slide silently down Josh's cheeks. Pulling back his head a bit, the justice gazed into his companion's eyes for a long moment.
"I can see you're still in a lot of pain about this, son. I'm glad you're talking to a professional counselor about it." Justice Broman pulled a fresh handkerchief out of his pocket, and gently wiped the young man's face.
"There's more," Josh said, looking down at the sand numbly.
"All right. Tell me."
"I'm in love with Chris."
"Chris Russo? That does complicate things, doesn't it?"
"Come on. Let's walk." The older man put an arm around the young cop, and they continued on down the beach, ignoring the few passersby they met.
"Does Chris reciprocate your feelings at all?"
"He does as a friend. We've been best friends since grade school. I know he loves me that way."
They were both silent as they trudged through the soft sand.
"This is a tough situation for you, Josh. Don't think for a minute I don't understand that," the justice said eventually.
"Yes, sir. I'd give anything to be out and confident like Matt and Mike and have somebody like one of them in my life. But that's a long way off, if it ever happens for me at all."
"That can happen for you, and it can happen when you least expect it," Mr. Broman said firmly, tightening his grip around Josh.
"I can sure use some of your optimism," Josh said.
"Well, let me tell you what I told Matt and Mike, maybe in different words, after they came out to my wife and me. This is the gist of it: all you can do is be the best Josh you can be. The best gay Josh that God made. That's all He asks, and no human being has the right to ask anything more or different from you. Just think about it, and you'll realize I'm on target when I tell you that."
"I needed to hear that right now, Mr. Broman. I really needed to hear that. I can see why Matt and Mike turned out to be the great people they are, with you in their corner. They're lucky guys, there's no doubt about that, and I don't mean because your family has money and your boys are rich. They're lucky because you and your wife raised all your kids with so much love and acceptance. Yours and Mrs. Broman's relationship with them is so wonderful that I can hardly get my head around it sometimes."
"Do you know for a fact that your own family won't treat you exactly the same way?"
"No," Josh admitted. "But I'm just not at the point yet where I can even test that out."
"That's OK. These things have to happen on your time schedule, not anybody else's. May I ask you how you happened to confide in Matt and Mike? When did that happen?"
"Just before Christmas. Chris and I went out and had a few drinks one night after work just before Chris was shot. Actually, we had more than a few drinks, and I ended up telling him I thought I might be gay. He didn't kick my butt the way I thought he might. He told me that he wanted me to talk to Matt and Mike, and I came out to them. After I did that, I knew I had to tell Chris how I really feel about him, and I eventually did when he was back at the condo recuperating. He told me he didn't think he could respond physically to my love for him, but that my being gay hadn't affected the quality of our relationship at all. And it hasn't, to tell you the truth. So that's where things sit right now."
"Josh, I'm amazed at how far you've come in such a short time," Justice Broman said. "No wonder Matt and Mike think so highly of you. No wonder they love you, actually."
"They've told me that. Do you think they really love me and respect me?"
"Absolutely! I know that for a fact. You don't think they'd let you set foot in their door and spend time with their kids and break bread with them every day if they didn't, do you?"
"I guess not," Josh said, starting to weep again.
Justice Broman handed him his handkerchief.
"I know we can't take the place of your family, Josh, and we wouldn't want to. But I think we're going to adopt you. I don't mean legally, of course. But for all intents and purposes, you can just consider yourself our son along with Matt and Mike and Jeff and Father David and Stan and Chris. Is that all right with you?"
"I'm stunned that you'd say that to me. I know I shouldn't be, knowing the kind of person you are, and the kind of family you have. But I am."
"You can count on us, Josh. And I want you to know something else, not that it's all that important."
"I would never have guessed in a thousand years that you were gay if you hadn't told me. That doesn't reflect on your worth in God's eyes one iota, you understand, but it can be a real advantage in everyday life, our society being what it is."
They had stopped walking again, and this time it was Josh, still shedding a few tears, who turned to Justice Broman and initiated a hug. The jurist kissed his cheek, and Josh kissed him back.
"You do know that this conversation is completely confidential as far as I'm concerned, don't you?" Mr. Broman asked. "If you want to discuss what we've said with someone else, you can certainly do that. But I never will."
"Thank you, sir."
They turned and started back for the condo in silence, with Justice Broman's arm around Josh again. The young cop's feelings were indescribable, and more positive about himself than they had been for a long, long time.
The two of them walked in silence until they reached the foot of the stairs leading up from the beach to the condo. Mr. Broman stopped them before they went up.
"Josh, I have one more question I want to ask you."
"Tell me what your dreams for the future are."
The young cop was silent for several long minutes, thinking hard as they stood there.
"Y'know, I'm not sure anymore," he said finally. "Most of my old dreams don't seem too relevant now. Or very important."
"You mean since you admitted to yourself you're gay?"
"This is a more important question than it sounds on the surface," the older man said. "It's important because when our dreams die for good, we die, really, in so many ways. It's important for us to have dreams if we want to be people of love and people of accomplishment, because our dreams become our goals. This matter is so important, that when our dreams die, as they will do from time to time, we damn well better identify some new ones if we want to live life on any plane other than the merely physical. Our physical life is important, but it's never enough. It can't stand alone. So I'll tell you what. I want you to give my question some thought, and in one month I want you to call me in Washington, either at home or at the Court, and tell me what your dreams for yourself are. I'll give you my telephone numbers before Jane and I leave Chicago. Call me whether you have answers or not, and we'll talk. Will you do that for me?"
"Yes, sir, I will."
Then the two of them climbed the stairs to the condo's front door, and went inside and upstairs. After they hung up their coats and hats, Justice Broman walked over to his wife, still on the couch in the den. Bending down, he kissed her without comment in the midst of the three or four conversations that were going on around the room at once. When he straightened up, he strolled over to Matt and Mike. They were crammed together in a big, leather easy chair, Matt sitting in front of Mike and leaning back against him. Mike's arms were around Matt, and their big, Nike-clad feet were plunked down on the coffee table.
"You two take good care of our boy," Mr. Broman told them quietly. Matt and Mike knew exactly whom he meant. Pleased and smiling as they looked up at their father, they nodded their heads.
"Count on it, Dad," Mike said.
* * *
Workmen from the company from which the Bromans had rented the tables and chairs for Stan's and Linda's reception showed up mid-afternoon, and trucking their materials into the enormous living room, began setting up big, round tables seating 12 guests around the dance floor, with a regular, long table at the north end of the room for the wedding party. All the tables were soon covered with white linen tablecloths, and place settings with linen napkins were laid out. Food was to be served buffet style in the dining room from the extended dining room table and a second table against one wall. It wasn't long before the caterers arrived and began to set out their wares, and good smells began to waft throughout the condo. Once again the food would be Polish, but not exclusively so.
The band for the evening arrived next, and began to practice a few songs to check out the acoustics.
Mike and Matt re-dressed the boys in their wedding suits, and then did the same themselves. The festivities were scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., and guests began to arrive about 5:30 after having their invitations scrutinized by a phalanx of security guards and police. About 200 people were expected. Everybody was looking forward to a good party.
At about 6:15, the band leader introduced the members of the wedding party and the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Kosco, and in Stan's case, Justice and Mrs. Matthew J. Broman. The parents stood at the far end of the dance floor in front of the head table. After they were announced, Stan and Linda made their entrance during the playing of the Polish Wedding March, circled the dance floor, and then were greeted by their parents in front of the head table with slices of rye bread and salt, and a glass of wine.
The Koscos and the Bromans sprinkled the slices of bread with salt and gave them to the newlyweds to eat. Mr. and Mrs. Broman had been told that the bread represented the parents' hope that their children would never experience hunger or need, while the salt reminded the couple that their life might be difficult at times, fraught with life's challenges, with which they must together learn to cope.
Then the glass of wine was presented to Stan and Linda. The drinking of it symbolized the parents' hope that the newlyweds would never thirst during a life of good health spent in the midst of many good friends.
When those symbolic acts were completed, the parents kissed the bride and groom as a welcome to their respective families. Father Stralka said grace, and the party was on, starting with the Zapicie, "to drink," a general toast to the newly marrieds, drunk for health and good fortune from glasses filled from bottles of vodka and beer sitting on the individual tables. Traditionally, everybody present was to have drunk from one glass only for the whole crowd, passed from hand to hand, but Linda had successfully put the kibosh on that.
Then Matt offered a funny but heartfelt toast on behalf of Mike and himself as the "best men," noting how their friendship with Linda and Stan had begun and deepened over the years they had known one another. He compared Stan, the rough and tough biker boy who had worked at Hospice years back, with the kind, well mannered young man they all saw that evening who would shortly have his college degree. Matt concluded with best wishes to the new couple for a happy life together. At that juncture, everyone joined Matt in throwing back a good slug of vodka.
Following an excellent dinner, the first dance was Stan with Linda, solo, followed by Linda's dancing with her father while an uncle of hers held an apron. Everybody who wanted to dance with the bride threw money into the apron, and soon it was overflowing with cash and checks, including a check for $10 thousand for the newlyweds from Mr. and Mrs. Broman. Custom then required that the groom throw his own wallet into the apron, and carry off the bride to live happily ever after, but the new couple weren't finished partying yet, and that didn't happen.
Watching Linda dance with a long line of men who were paying dearly for the privilege, Andie looked at Martha with a grin. "Typical, isn't it. The woman does all the work, and the man sits back while the money rolls in."
"You got that right!" Martha said, laughing, as Jeff and Father David protested in vain.
"Let's go make Stan dance with us," Andie said. "If Linda has to dance for her supper, then Stan needs to get busy, too."
The two women stood up and walked off, and a few minutes later Jeff and David saw them both pulling Stan out on to the dance floor. They formed a little circle, and Andie and Martha danced with him at the same time.
Stan and Linda were scheduled to catch a late flight for Denver that night, where they would stay over before going on to Snowmass late the next morning. Before leaving the reception, they cut and fed each other wedding cake--nicely, with no smooshing it in one other's face. The remainder of the lemon cake with white frosting was then cut and distributed to the guests.
Soon after, in a final bow to a Polish tradition called Oczepiny, Linda removed her wedding headdress and received the Czepek, the cap of married women, from her godmother, one of her mother's sisters. In the old country, this cap was always treated with special care, being reserved for wear to church, for folk festivals, and on her death, for burial.
Stan picked up Linda bodily at that point, and carried her out of the now-boisterous party to their own little apartment, where they changed clothes for travel. Matt, Mike, Chris and Jeff carried their luggage down to a waiting limo for them when the couple was ready.
"You guys have a safe trip and a wonderful honeymoon," Matt told Stan and Linda as they stood out in front of the condo. "And Stan, if you have any questions about what's expected of you--you know what I mean--just give Mike or Jeff a call. Mike knows all that stuff and a lot more, and Jeff thinks he does."
Stan laughed it up as Linda gave Matt a swat on the shoulder, and Jeff, feeling no pain at this point, squeezed Matt's neck in one of his big hands.
Mike leaned over and asked Stan quietly, "Do you have enough money and everything?"
"Got it covered," Stan said, "but thanks. And I have the key to the Snowmass condo." He held up a key on a key ring. "And gosh, I forgot. Put the money from the apron in your safe, will ya?"
"Yep," Mike promised.
"Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for everything, especially for putting up with my mom," Linda said. "It's been a great day, and we really appreciate everything you've done for us."
"Your mom has been just fine, Linda," Matt reassured her.
"Will you thank your mom and dad again for me? And Mary?" Stan asked Matt, Mike and Jeff. "I don't think there are another three people like them in this whole world."
"I don't think there are, either," Mike said. "We'll tell 'em."
The six of them exchanged hugs and kisses, Linda and Stan entered the limo, and Matt, Mike, Chris and Jeff waved goodbye as the car pulled out into a stream of traffic on Sheridan Road and disappeared.
As they turned to go back to the party, Matt happened to glance across the street, and thought he saw a familiar looking, but now bearded, face in the doorway of the building there. By the time he got himself turned back around to take a better look, the person was gone. Matt shivered. Maybe he was seeing things, but he could have sworn it was Neil Anderson.
* * *
The condo family all attended the late mass at St. Stephen's on the morning after the wedding, and it was pretty obvious that Father Rohm and Justice Broman wanted more time to talk than the few minutes they were afforded at the front door of the church.
"I apologize for the late invitation, Father," Matt interjected into the two men's conversation, "but is there any chance that you and Mrs. Rohm can join us for dinner today? We'll eat about 2 o'clock. Father David will be there. It would give you and Dad a chance to talk some more. And we'd all like the opportunity to spend some time with you and Mrs. Rohm."
"That's thoughtful of you, Matt. Let me check with Alicia as soon as I hang up my vestments, and I'll call you at home right away."
The Bromans had no sooner arrived back at the condo from church than the telephone rang, and it was Father Rohm. He said that he and Mrs. Rohm would be delighted to join them.
The Rohms and Justice and Mrs. Broman hit it off right away. Not long after dinner, they went into the living room, now restored to its usual social function, and talked most of the afternoon in front of the big windows overlooking the lake. Not surprisingly, they were all soon on a first name basis. Matt and Mike, had they sat in on the conversation, would have been surprised at how warm and witty the erudite and reserved Father Rohm was. And his wife was equally so.
After thanking the Bromans again for making the search for their lost son possible, Father Rohm shared with the Bromans the outcome of the detective work for which the latter had paid. The priest said that the operatives had located the young man's exact residence in San Francisco, and that he now owned and ran a highly successful floral shop in the Castro. Mr. Evans, the president of the detective agency, had (somewhat hesitantly) told Father Rohm that it appeared that his son was gay, and that he was in a relationship of long standing with another man.
"How do you feel about that, Curt?" Justice Broman asked.
"I--we--were surprised, to say the least," Curt Rohm said. "But I think the four of us here are on the same page when it comes to issues of sexual orientation, Matthew. Gay men and gay women are as much God's children as any of us, and they deserve our love and support. And Curt's going to have that love and support from us if he'll accept it."
"We want our boy back in our lives any way we can get him," Alicia Rohm confirmed. "Not knowing where he was all these years, or for that matter, whether he was even still alive, was horrible."
"I can imagine. What's your next step?" Jane Broman asked.
"We aren't sure," Curt said. "We don't know what caused the breach in the first place. He was on the street here in Chicago and using drugs the last time we knew of his whereabouts. And he may also have known he was gay at that point. We don't know whether it was fear of our disapproval about his drug use or about his orientation, or both, that made him run clear across the country. To be honest, I think his problem was with me more than with Alicia. I was always pretty much the disciplinarian in the family, and he may have thought I didn't love him. Or couldn't love him enough to accept him as he was. We just aren't sure. But I'm leery about showing up on his doorstep in San Francisco and confronting him face to face without more information about what drove him away. I don't think he'd run again, because he has a very successful business now, by all reports. But if I just show up in San Francisco one day, he could very well tell me there's no room in his life for me or his mother, and shove me out the door."
"Why don't you send somebody to California to lay some groundwork for the two of you meeting face to face, Curt? Or his meeting with both you and Alicia, for that matter?" Jane Broman asked.
The four of them were silent for a moment.
"Curt, I think Jane has a good idea," Alicia said.
"I agree," Father Rohm said thoughtfully. "But who would go?"
"What about Father David or Matt or Mike, or all three of them?" Justice Broman asked. "They're all in the same age range as Curt, so that's one barrier eliminated right off the bat."
"They'd be perfect," Curt Rohm said. "Do you think one or both of your guys could spare the time to fly out there? I can give David the time with no problem."
"We won't know unless we ask," Matthew Broman said, getting up out of his chair and going to the door leading into the den. He caught Mike's eye.
"Mike," he said, "can you and Father David and Matt spare us a minute?"
"Sure can, Dad," Mike said, beckoning to his partner and to David. The three of them went into the living room and pulled some chairs up to the group.
"Guys, Father Rohm has a question for you," the justice said.
The three men looked at the older priest inquiringly.
"Alicia and I received some additional information about young Curt since we talked last. The detectives are saying ..." he paused. "They're saying that Curt owns a business in the Castro, and that he's gay and has a partner."
"Well, I'll be darned!" Matt exclaimed. "Are you OK with that, Father?"
"Yes, I am. We are. Here's the thing, though. We're reluctant to go out to San Francisco and just show up on his doorstep without getting him a little prepared to see us. So I was wondering if any of you, or all of you, for that matter, would be willing to fly out there and meet with him. I'll pay for the tickets, of course, if you can spare the time."
"Don't worry about the tickets," Matt said. "And I think I'm in good enough shape academically, now that I'm a senior, to take a few days off and meet your son."
The older priest looked pleased.
"You know I'll go, Father," David said. "It would be a privilege."
"I hate to say 'No,' Father, but I'm pretty much under the gun at school right now," Mike said, looking unhappy. "I'd like nothing better than to get on a plane, but I just don't have the time."
"I understand perfectly, Mike," Curt Rohm said. "Don't worry about it."
"When would you want us to go, Father?" Matt asked.
"How about two weeks from now?" the older priest asked. "You tell me the time of day you and David want to leave, and I'll get the tickets."
"Why don't you let us do that, Curt?" Justice Broman asked.
"Thank you, Matthew, but you've done enough for us already. It's out of the question," Father Rohm said.
"All right, then," the jurist said reluctantly.
"Phooey!" Mike said, his disappointment that he couldn't go on a nice little mini-vacation with Matt finally sinking in. He looked menacingly at David and Matt. "If you guys go out there and have a good time for yourselves, I'm gonna give you trouble like you've never seen. I mean, beau coup trouble! It'll make Marine Corps basic training look like a walk in the park. Say, 'Sir, yes sir!!'"
"Why don't we catch a flight after the last mass on Sunday after next," Matt suggested to David. "And let's check out the internet for where the best party places are in San Francisco." He looked at Mike out of the corner of his eye.
"You rat!" Mike said. "You've been warned, buddy!"
"Yeah, yeah. Don't be making a fool of yourself in front of our priests, now," Matt said, grinning because he'd gotten a rise out of his partner.
Jane Broman intervened and changed the subject, looking at her watch. "Father, why don't you and Alicia stay for supper?" she suggested. "We're just having leftovers from our son Stan's wedding reception last night."
Father Rohm looked puzzled. "You have a son in addition to Matt and Mike and Jeff?"
"Honorary son, I guess you'd say," Justice Broman explained. "Stan Rosinski. I'm sure you've met him and his bride, Linda, at St. Stephen's from time to time when they've come to church with the family. Yesterday Jane and Mary and I stood in for his parents, who are both deceased, at Stan's and Linda's wedding at St. Casimir's up on the Northwest Side. They left for Colorado on their honeymoon last night after the reception."
"Of course I know Stan," Father Rohm said. "I've met both him and Linda. Many times. I thought they were Episcopalians. I didn't know they are Roman Catholics."
"Yes, they are," Jane Broman said. "They would have liked to have been married at St. Stephen's, to tell you the truth, but it would have hurt Linda's parents, so they elected to have the ceremony in the Koscos' home parish. It was a beautiful wedding, though, by any standard. Father Stralka, the pastor at St. Casimir's, did a wonderful job. And the reception was fun. Matthew and I learned a lot about Polish wedding traditions, I can tell you."
"Thank you for the invitation to supper, Jane," Mrs. Rohm said. "We'd love to stay unless Curt has a conflict with his schedule. Curt?"
"No, this is one Sunday evening I have free," the priest said. "Thank you."
"Let me go and see what I can scare up in the way of food," Jane Broman said.
"Let me help you," Mrs. Rohm added, and they went off to the kitchen, where they found Mary Bradford already pulling leftovers out of the refrigerator and trying to decide what to fix.
Jane Broman and Alicia Rohm put on aprons, and after the three of them put their heads together, joined Mary in preparing a good Sunday night repast, heavy on the Polish food.
When the food was ready and the wine had been opened, the family and guests gathered around the dining room table. Mike asked Father Rohm to offer thanks as they all held hands for the prayer.
The priest began with a quotation from the Psalms: "'The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand, and satisfy the needs of every living creature.'
"The Lord be with you."
"And also with you."
"Let us pray.
"Heavenly Father, we gather before you with hearts overflowing in gratitude for your great goodness and kindness to us and to all mankind. At your hands we receive joy upon joy and blessing upon blessing, and in thanksgiving we bind ourselves to you anew this night. We ask you to hold Stan and Linda in the hollow of your hand and to shower them with all your good gifts as they begin married life together. From your bounty we receive the food before us as yet one more sign of your grace and favor. May it strengthen us all to be powerful and benevolent instruments in your kingdom as it unfolds. Restore peace in your world, Father. We ask these things through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Mike and Matt pick up their new weapons, and one of the two turns out to be a sharpshooter. Chris explores transferring into the Illinois State Police reserve, and arranges to take his physical. David and Matt go to San Francisco to look up Curt Rohm, and when they return, Matt begins scheduling meetings for a new service center for gays and their families that he's thinking of calling, "Sojourner House." Josh telephones Justice Broman in Washington.
Thank you to all who have written with words of support and appreciation for WIO. I'm grateful for your emails.
As always, thanks to Chicagoeric for proofing. Don H. email@example.com.